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Longtime Jeannette teacher continues to grow as educator

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 26, 2014 1:15 p.m
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Kristie Linden | Trib Total Media
Nicole Robinson has been a teacher in Jeannette for 18 years. This is her fourth year as a middle school social studies teacher.

Nicole Robinson, who is a Jeannette High School graduate and is now a middle school social studies teacher at Jeannette McKee K-8, has a quote from Madeline Hunter, a professor of educational administration, near her desk.

“If you want to feel secure, do what you already know how to do. If you want to be a true professional and continue to grow… go to the cutting edge of your competence, which means a temporary loss of security. So whenever you don’t quite know what you’re doing, know you’re growing,” Hunter said.

It’s a fitting quote for someone who spent 14 years teaching second and fifth grades at the elementary school and moved into the middle school just four years ago.

“(Being an elementary teacher) is very demanding when you have a family of your own. I didn’t have anything to give them at the end of the day,” said Robinson of her switch to the middle school. “I can focus on content and delve into content and get it to know it well instead of knowing everything a little.”

Choosing to focus on social studies was an easy choice because Robinson has a natural interest in history, so she’s learning more about a subject she enjoys in order to pass that knowledge along to others.

She teaches ancient history, but she enjoys reading historical fiction set in World War II.

“The human aspect (of WWII) is so interesting.”

In class, she gives students a piece of nonfiction to read so they can let her know which pieces of information the children already know about a particular subject and which portions they have questions about.

Then the children do an activity to reinforce the lessons — such as building a pyramid to get an idea of why it took the Egyptians 20 years and 20,000 men to build the structures. Finally, the students get to write about what they’ve learned.

“I’m very structured as a teacher but I’m not very harsh,” she said. “They already know the protocol. September is like boot camp. Students get used to the structure and routine.”

The biggest change she’s seen in moving from younger children to nearly teenagers is social.

“You have to give them the same respect they give you. They don’t want you to embarrass them at this age,” she said. “The biggest challenge for me in the transition was finding the motivation (for the students to learn). In the middle school, they’re more interested in their peers than content.”

She enjoys that she can talk to the middle school students a bit more on a peer level. She loves attending school dances because “I can make a fuss over them and enjoy them just being kids, letting their guard down. That’s my favorite thing.”

Robinson got her start as a substitute teacher and it was during that time when she knew she wanted to stay in Jeannette.

“I loved teaching with the people here. They’re the friendliest people,” she said. “(As a sub) other school districts were not as welcoming. I was always their equal in Jeannette. You stay where you’re comfortable.”

Her favorite moments are when she’s simply teaching in her classroom. As a teacher these days, there are many other tasks required of teachers aside from simply teaching content to students.

“There is a lot of paperwork. You’re a psychologist sometimes and a computer engineer,” she said, with a laugh. “Just being in my classroom teaching, that’s where I like to be.”

Something she’s always wanted to do is to make a “Walk in Time” event featuring students, who could be dressed up in period costumes as if in a wax museum, to describe all of the various eras humans have lived through.

But it can be difficult to pull together a large scale project when there is so much pressure on students and teachers to prepare for state testing.

Robinson said social studies is a sort of “lost subject” because it isn’t tested, but the way she helps prepare students for those all important tests is to improve their reading and writing skills.

“Testing is important in some respects because we have to make sure kids are reaching benchmarks. But, when the math curriculum is tested in March and they haven’t had to whole year (of instruction) yet, that’s not teaching. I don’t agree with the speed (required by the tests). The timeline imposed is not fair for students or teachers.”

In some ways, Robinson said, No Child Left Behind forces some children to be left behind because teachers are required to speed through curriculum instead of teaching at a more natural pace.

As a child growing up, Robinson always wanted to be two things — a teacher and a mother — and she has achieved those dreams.

“I have no desire to be an administrator, I just want to be with the kids,” she said.

Robinson has a son, John David, who is in fourth grade and enjoys playing many sports. When she isn’t teaching, Robinson said with a laugh, she’s just the sports bag lady and chauffeur. Her son, who goes by JD, plays baseball, basketball and he especially loves hockey.

Once her son is raised, she said, her next goal will be to become a grandma.

She is an avid sports fan, following the Steelers and Penguins. Robinson loves dancing and shopping — the latter is something she and JD have in common.

“I love it and he’s following in my footsteps,” she said.

Look Who’s Teaching is a recurring feature in The Jeannette Spirit, that will give readers a look at several teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels in the Jeannette School District each year.

Teachers are picked at random, by grade level and participation is voluntary.

The Spirit hopes to introduce many teachers to the community throughout the school year.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at klinden@tribweb.com or 724-838-5154.

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